Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed an agreement covering the return of Rohingya Muslims who fled across their mutual border to escape violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Myanmar announced the agreement on Thursday, but provided no details on how many Rohingya refugees would be allowed to return home or how soon that might happen. Bangladesh said the repatriations are to begin within two months.
More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when the army began “clearance operations” following an attack on police posts by a group of Rohingya insurgents.
The office of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the agreement “on the return of displaced persons from Rakhine state” was signed Thursday by cabinet officials in Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital.
It said the pact follows a formula set in a 1992 repatriation agreement signed by the two nations after an earlier spasm of violence. Under that agreement, Rohingya were required to present residency documents, which few have, before being allowed to return to Myanmar.
“We’re continuing our bilateral talks with Myanmar so that these Myanmar nationals [Rohingya] could return to their country,” Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was quoted as saying by the United News of Bangladesh news agency. “It’s my call to Myanmar to start taking back soon their nationals from Bangladesh.”
Rohingya at a refugee camp in Bangladesh expressed deep doubts about the agreement.
“They burned our houses, they took our land and cows — will they give us these things back?” asked Abdul Hamid from Hoyakong.
“I’m not happy at all. First, I need to know if they are going to accept us with the Rohingya identity,” said Sayed Alom, also from Hoyakong.
Rohingya refugee Ufaira Begom, 25, suffering from vomiting and dehydration, lies on a Red Cross field hospital bed with her six-month-old baby, Shehena, at Kutupalong refugee camp. (Susana Vera/Reuters)
Rohingya Muslims have faced state-supported discrimination in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar for decades.
Though members of the ethnic minority first arrived generations ago, Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practise their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education.
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